Apple Music’s Latest Plan To Defeat Spotify: Tidal Exclusives?

At least five days make music-streaming service Tidal look brilliant: July 4 of last year, Jan. 28, Feb. 15, April 23 and June 25. The Jay Z-controlled app received a huge spike in new users each of those days, which corresponded to the release -- exclusively on his service -- of a major work of art.

It hasn't added up to a gigantic customer base, just a few million subscribers. But it's the kind of cultural influence that Apple Inc. covets.

The iPhone maker is reportedly in discussions to acquire Tidal, a deal that would combine rivals emerging from choppy starts and create a more considerable foe for Spotify, a competitor to them both. Apple and Tidal declined to comment.

The jumps in app downloads suggest that exclusives have been essential to drawing people to Tidal, which costs $20 a month for high-fidelity audio.

"Having the first run at content gets a lot of press," said Robert Derow, head of growth strategy at Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures. "It's a great acquisition tactic."

For Apple, buying Tidal would eliminate a noisy competitor and free its famous stakeholders to do exclusives with Apple instead. Tidal received music and documentaries before any other company from Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Kanye West, Beyoncé and, of course, Jay Z, because each of the artists owns a small part of the start-up.

But Apple also could maintain Tidal as is, and offer it as a higher-profit-margin premium alternative to $10-per-month Apple Music. Musicians have backed Tidal because its business model aims to be more friendly toward artists, partially because it's the only service around that manages to extract more money out of superfans' pocketbooks.

"It's set up perfectly -- you've got the right talent, you've got the potential for exclusives, you've got the right price point," said Ty Braswell, a former Virgin Records...

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